Interview with Morag Kewell

polymer clay artist, occasional illustrator and comic book creator

Morag Kewell

is a polymer clay artist and occasional illustrator/comic book creator, living in Glasgow! She started sculpting when she was seven years old, and started her celebration cake topper business
Topper the World, in 2010.

She has self-published four small press comics to date: Big in Japan, Crossing Borders Thailand, Crossing Borders Vietnam, and Meeper; and she is currently working on Crossing Borders Japan.

During the pandemic, she began making miniatures and dolls' house items as well as cake toppers as a way to supplement her income, under the name
Teeny Konbini.

Makarelle: Do you feel that your creativity has helped you through the mental health challenges of this pandemic?

Morag: 100 percent! I don’t know what I would have done if I wasn’t being creative. I felt like I’d been given the gift of free time to do everything I’d wanted to do for ages, and through that I rediscovered old hobbies and ultimately turned them into a new business. My furlough has lasted a lot longer than most so I’ve been very lucky to be retained by my employer and not had to worry about money too much.

Makarelle: Do you have any tips for others who might feel like they are coming unravelled at the moment?

Morag: At the start of the pandemic I wrote a long list of all the projects I wanted to do and worked through them methodically. I would encourage anyone to try a new hobby, even if you don’t consider yourself very creative. Give something a go and you might find something new that you love. Personally, I discovered needle felting! It’s very therapeutic. Finding something to occupy your mind is very helpful.

Makarelle: What kind of technology and materials do you use?

Morag: For sculpting, I use a polymer clay called Fimo which is easily available in art shops. For my artwork, I use Faber-Castell Polychromos pencils and letter and edit my comics on my iPad using Procreate, or on my graphics tablet using Photoshop.

Makarelle: What is your creative process (where do you find your inspiration – how do you plan and implement your projects)?

Morag: I’m very inspired by Asian culture, specifically Japan. When I started making dolls house miniatures, I specifically made Japanese and Asian food, which was something I hadn’t seen on the market before as most doll houses are western or Victorian-themed. I’ve had quite a good response so far.

I’m not sure if I have much of a process, I’m thinking about my work most of the time, and often have ideas when I’m trying to go to sleep!

Makarelle: Hi Morag, thank you for agreeing to be interviewed for Makarelle. When I looked into your work, I was struck by your versatility. There’s your Etsy shop ‘Rocketpuppy’, for which you have created comics and illustrations, there’s your shop ‘Topper The World’, for which you make bespoke wedding cake toppers – and now you have opened yet another Etsy shop ‘Teeny Konbini’. I believe you also play Taiko drums with Tsuchigumo Daiko in Glasgow! How do you manage all these different projects?

Morag: With difficulty! I’m always having ideas, and always have things that I want to learn and do. I try and apportion my time into different blocks for different parts of my business, sculpting in the daytime, drawing or another hobby at night. Taiko one evening a week. I’ve had to limit what work and hobbies I take up, otherwise, I’d have no downtime at all!

Makarelle: How did the Covid Pandemic affect your various business/art projects?

Morag: After lockdown was announced, obviously a lot of weddings were put on hold or cancelled. I was also furloughed from my job and found myself with a lot more free time. I had a small revenue stream through Etsy for cake toppers, but after finishing a couple of self-indulgent modelmaking projects, I remembered how much I loved it (I studied and trained a bit to be a model maker at college) and started making 1:12 scale miniatures and dolls house accessories. Currently, I’ve mostly been making food and I am working on expanding my selection of products.

Morag: My proudest moment was winning two of the Scottish Independent Comic Book Awards in 2013, for my comic Big in Japan. It was pretty unexpected, and I won Best Comic and Best Cover. I’m proud of how far my cake topper business has come as well. I feel quite well established now and love hearing from people how happy they are with my work, or recommending me to others.

Makarelle: What are your future goals?

Morag: Eventually, I’d like to work full time on my own work. Currently, I need to work a day job as my income can be a little unreliable, especially at a times like this. I hope one day I’ll be able to fully rely on my artistic income.

Makarelle: You certainly have the talent, energy and initiative! Your work is stunning, Morag, thank you for your time! 

All image rights on this page remain with the artist Morag Kewell.

Makarelle: Do you have any advice for other visual artists?

Morag: I would say surround yourself with inspiration! I made my studio as visually inspiring a place as I can, with art books from my favourite artists, souvenirs and photos from my travels, and lots of old sketchbooks I can look through for ideas.

Makarelle: Are there any mistakes you made in setting up your businesses that others can learn from?

Morag: Getting yourself a good website is key. I made my own website initially and graphic design is not my strong point. A graphic designer friend of mine took over and make me a fantastic website for my cake topper business, and my engagement shot up. Check out all avenues you can promote yourself as well, social medial like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter are all great ways for getting yourself out there, but they need to be ‘worked’, you need to engage with others a lot, posting pictures, sharing others work, commenting etc. These days building a following is very important.

Makarelle: Can you tell me about some milestones/proud moments/funny anecdotes in your journey as an artist?